An assessment of the war in Afghanistan by the top US and NATO commander is no longer expected by mid-August and will not include a request for extra troops, the Pentagon said.
Defence Secretary Robert Gates had asked US Army General Stanley McChrystal to complete an assessment 60 days after he took command in Afghanistan in mid-June.
But Gates gave McChrystal additional instructions last week with other top US defence officials, Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell said, Reuters reports.
“The secretary has told General McChrystal to take beyond the 60 days if needed, so he anticipates getting this final product in late August, early September at this point,” Morrell told reporters.
“It will not offer specific resource requests or recommendations,” he added.
He said any request for additional forces would go through the normal Pentagon channels for approval.
Advisers to McChrystal have said he will need more troops and other resources to turn the tide in a war that senior US officials have acknowledged they are not winning.
But McChrystal himself has yet to say whether he believes he needs more forces to carry out his mission.
The US has already poured more than 30 000 troops into Afghanistan this year in an effort to reverse gains by the Taliban and other insurgent groups. There are now 63 000 US troops in the country and 39 000 from allied nations.
Senior Obama administration officials have made clear they would need to be persuaded of the need for more forces.
Concern about size of force
Gates has expressed concern that Afghans will see the foreign military presence as an occupying force if it becomes too large.
“He has been mindful that there could be a tipping point here,” Morrell said. “That said, he is also not in the business as secretary of defence to be imposing arbitrary troop caps on his commanders. So it’s a fine line.”
McChrystal said last month that his assessment would include recommendations on resources. But he has subsequently said the review would provide only an overview of the current situation and his future strategy.
Morrell said he could not provide any details on the additional instructions Gates gave to McChrystal.
“The secretary didn’t share them with me, so I can’t share them with you,” he told reporters.
Attacks across the country this year have reached their worst level since the Taliban were toppled by U.S.-backed Afghan forces in 2001 and escalated further after thousands of US Marines launched a new offensive in Helmand last month.
In a dramatic attack demonstrating their new reach, Islamist insurgents fired up to nine rockets earlier this week into the capital Kabul, the first attack of its kind in several years.
The Taliban have vowed to disrupt the August 20 presidential poll and have called on Afghans to boycott the ballot, issuing threats in some parts of the country against those who turn up on polling day. The election will be Afghanistan’s second direct vote since 2001.
Pic: US troops holding the American flag